It was ironic and serendipitous that my article on the Higher Education Funding Council for England's research funding formula (THES, June 9) appeared in the same issue as the report that departments graded 5* in the next research assessment exercise will get no more money than those graded 5. The necessary outcome of the latter decision will be to penalise the country's best research departments.
This is easily illustrated by the ten-department discipline used as an example in my article. We assume: First, that both grade 5 departments retain that status with the larger of the two (department ten) attaining 5*; second, there is slight overall grade drift, from an average 3.3 in the first RAE to 3.6 at the next. (Department three moves from 4 to 5; four goes from 3 to 3.25; five goes from 2 to 2.75; and eight goes from 3 to 4.) The unit of resource for research falls from Pounds 6,104 to Pounds 5,498. The departments that improved their grade got extra money as a reward, except the one that went from 5 to 5*. It lost Pounds 81,000, impossible to make up by increasing volume, whereas the grade 5 department (one) lost Pounds 58,000. Such an outcome is determined by the system: the best are bound to lose money. Is this really in the best interests of research? Do we want to bleed the top research departments by giving them no reward from staying at the top? Not funding the grades will not resolve the problem: they do not earn enough to be redistributed to the 5s and 5*s. The whole system needs restructuring. We can only conclude that academic life is going to get poorer, nastier, more brutish and shorter at the top!